Universities pose Jan. 13 ultimatum for strike

Say if crisis not resolved semester will be cancelled; med schools: Strike will damage health system.

By JUDY SIEGEL, EHUD ZION WALDOKS
December 24, 2007 00:20
hebrew univ. 298

University 224.88. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])

 
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The Committee of University Presidents (CUP) announced late Sunday night that they would pursue all avenues to end the university strike including appealing to the National Labor Court for legal intervention. After an emergency session, the CUP also said that the first semester of the school year would be cancelled on January 13 if the strike did not end by then. That date marks the absolute last point at which the academic year can be completed by extending the year into the summer, the CUP said in a statement. CUP head Prof. Moshe Kaveh invited Senior Lecturers Union (SLU) head Prof. Zvi Hacohen and the other representatives of the professors to an urgent meeting Monday night to try once again to end the strike, which has stretched to over 50 days long. The continuing strike by senior staffers in the four medical faculties threatens to damage the health system, as medical students who did not learn immunology, physiology, anatomy or other vital subjects cannot make up the material after they graduate, according to Prof. Pablo Yagupsky, acting dean of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev's Health Sciences Faculty in Beersheba. "If they don't study everything they have to learn, they cannot graduate. We can't give them a break," he said. Yagupsky, who is standing in for faculty dean Prof. Shaul Sofer while he is abroad, and the deans of the medical schools of Tel Aviv University, the Hebrew University-Hadassah in Jerusalem and the Technion in Haifa all agreed that medical students were in a much worse situation than all other students kept from their studies, including those in law schools. Meanwhile, the Committee of University Presidents (CUP) announced late Sunday night that they would pursue all avenues to end the university strike, including appealing to the National Labor Court for legal intervention. After an emergency session, the CUP also said that the first semester of the school year would be cancelled on January 13 if the strike did not end by then. That date marks the absolute last point at which the academic year can be completed by extending the year into the summer, the CUP said in a statement. CUP head Prof. Moshe Kaveh invited Senior Lecturers Union (SLU) head Prof. Zvi Hacohen and the other representatives of the professors to an urgent meeting Monday night to try once again to end the strike, which has stretched to over 50 days. Prof. Yossi Mekori of TAU's Sackler School of Medicine warned that "[medical students] not learning the required material will have a domino effect. If they do not pass their academic courses, they cannot go on to the three years of clinical studies in the hospitals. There is a shortage of places for clinical work, so if they don't complete this, they will not become doctors, and there will be fewer newly graduated doctors who work as hospital interns, and no new students would be admitted to medical school." Experts noted that there was already a severe shortage of specialists in certain fields, such as anesthesiology and internal medicine, and as many doctors retire over the coming decade, the country faced a shortage in most medical fields. Thus the strike by senior university lecturers and professors would cause serous harm to medical schools, students and the entire medical system, the experts said. As the strike reaches its two-month mark, Yagupsky said all physicians who teach at the medical school - including himself - were pitching in, but it was not enough to replace the medical school's academic senior lecturers. Every year, BGU admits about 70 students to the six-year medical curriculum. "When I studied medicine 40 years ago, we completed the material in six years. Today, there is many times more to learn, and it is still done in six years - thus, there is no time to spare," said Mekori. He added that 120 students in their second year were in the worst situation, as all of their teachers were senior university staffers. Those in the last three years who are doing clinical work in the hospitals are not affected, as the physicians there continue to teach. Some university teachers are getting their salaries because they continue to do their research. Hebrew University Medical Faculty Dean Ehud Razin said his school admitted some 115 students every year. "I can't voice a position against my colleagues," said Razin, a biochemist, not a physician, when asked why the four deans have not held a press conference, perhaps along with Health Minister Ya'acov Ben-Yizri, to warn the country and the Treasury about the impending damage to the health system. If he were now a medical student, he said, "I'd be out on the streets demonstrating against the Treasury's policy regarding the universities." Students in their second and third years were in the worst bind, he said. Prof. Ido Perlman, dean of the Technion's Rappaport Medical Faculty, said the nearly 100 students in each of the first three years were suffering the most. Only about a quarter or a fifth of faculty members are physicians who work in hospitals rather than full-time university academics. Perlman said that he himself was an academic on strike, and echoed Razin: "I can't voice my opinion against my colleagues." If somehow the first semester were allowed to resume, there was hope that somehow, the pre-clinical students would be able to catch up, said Perlman. "Then we may be able to overcome the problems. But if the semester is cancelled, it will be very bad, as we give first-semester courses only in the first semester and not in the second semester, as in regular university departments," he said. Meanwhile, student unions at the major universities have been preparing "for the day after" - whether that means the cancellation of the semester or the end of the strike. Representatives of student unions from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Bar-Ilan University, University of Haifa and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev described their action plans to the Post. While they have organized a series of protests against the loss of their semester, they have also been intensively preparing with university administrations how to make up the lost time and enable those who were supposed to graduate in the spring to do so. After protracted negotiations, many of the student unions have come to an agreement outlining actions to be taken after the strike ends. "We are arranging crash courses to make up the missed material," explained Shlomit Atzaba, spokeswoman for the Hebrew University's student union. "We are also trying to make sure internships can continue. And we've received a commitment from the university's president to help us make up for lost time." Other student unions also said they had worked out understandings with their universities' administrations to minimize the damage the strike would cause the students. At the University of Haifa, the student union was able to get the rector to agree to consult with them before making any substantial changes to the academic school year. At Bar-Ilan, the students had created a committee to brainstorm and plan for any eventuality, Efrat Fudem, the union's spokeswoman, said. In addition, they had begun faxing all 120 members of the Knesset, urging them to get involved and bring the strike to a swift conclusion. However, law students who had one semester to go to complete their studies would be able to begin clerking for lawyers on time, even if classes did not resume this year, Israel Bar chairman Yori Geiron told the Post on Sunday. Israel Bar officials have been holding discussions with the deans of the law faculties to work out an arrangement whereby students would begin clerking on schedule, but would have to complete their final year of law school studies by a deadline that has not yet been defined. According to Geiron, this is not the first time the Israel Bar has made adjustments for students who could not finish their studies for reasons beyond their control. It made a similar arrangement for students who were called up for reserve duty during the Second Lebanon War. Earlier Sunday, the CUP called on the senior lecturers to accept Finance Minister Ronnie Bar-On's suggestion to enter into arbitration to determine a mechanism for compensating salary erosion. Bar-On made the suggestion during a late-night Saturday meeting with the CUP and the senior lecturers. Hacohen rejected the suggestion as soon as it was made. A spokeswoman for the SLU said Sunday it was because the professors wanted an immediate solution. "Arbitration is a long process that could take weeks and... you have to abide by whatever decision the arbiter arrives at. It is much different than mediation, which wasn't suggested," she said. "The professors want a solution now. Why suggest arbitration nine weeks into the strike?" Dan Izenberg contributed to this report.

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